Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ordinaries, Ferries, and Horses

Wishing to write one more blog post for 2011, I then, as per usual, decided to defer the agonies of writing in favor of the pleasures of organizing the material that I have been collecting over the past couple of years. I started with the real paper but that proved to be such a heterogeneous collection that the task seemed too demanding for the evening of Boxing Day. So I turned to the virtual paper instead.

One of the first files I found bore the name "Anne Arundel County," which told me very little. When I opened it to investigate further, it proved to be a file of extracts from county court records, all having some connection to ordinaries or ordinary keepers. The file had been generously shared with me by Rod Cofield, Director of Interpretation and Museum Programs at Historic London Town and Gardens. Because the colonial town of London was one terminus of a ferry over the South River, operated by the holder of an ordinary license, all aspects of colonial ordinaries in Anne Arundel are important to the interpretation of the site.

William Brown House, Historic London Town and Gardens

To digress just a bit, in 1755 an Englishman named George Fisher traveled north from Virginia, passing through London Town on his journey. In the narrative of his travels, Fisher wrote "London Town, (a great name) where I arrived about Three stands upon the S W side of South River; is composed of a few houses only. After Crossing this small river not more than half a mile in breadth, Two great Fellows in getting my Horse out of their (Browns) Boat, threw him upon his back in the water; and tho' he lay at least a minute on his side in the water, the Boat beating on him, he received no damage. [William and Mary Quarterly, January 1909, p.175]

Returning to the path on which I originally set out, the file is voluminous with much information that has little to do with the content of this blog. But it does contain scattered entries that help shed additional light on the operation of ferries as they pertained to travel through the county on horseback. Enough information so that I promise to put to rest with this blog the question of the power source for Anne Arundel's ferries. Not that I'm convinced all the evidence has been assembled, but only because I don't plan to go looking for any more. If it turns up, however...

The court record volumes begin in 1703. The county levy for that year, established at the November court session, authorized payment of 6000 pounds of tobacco to each of the county's publicly supported ferrymen. In the manner of colonial roads, which meandered around fields and obstacles, the June 1704 court record presents another digression, in the account of a suit by Joseph Addison against Capt. Edward Hunt. Addison charged that Hunt "at Lyons Creek in Anne Arundel County… stood justly indebted" for an itemized list of expenses that included "money lent you at the race" in the amount of 18 shillings. This serendipitous entry testifies to horse races being held at Lyons Creek (near Herring Bay) as early as 1702.

In the record of the January 1705 court session, the clerk included the rates set for food, drink, and accommodations at county ordinaries. Travelers paid six pence for "a night's lodging in a bed" and the same amount for "good pasturage for a horse". For two shillings the horse's master could purchase a peck of shelled corn or oats as feed for his horse and hay or oat straw bedding for the same amount. The August court further decreed that the ferrymen on the Severn and South Rivers had to be in attendance on Sundays between nine and eleven in the morning and two and four in the afternoon to provide passage for all persons, whether on foot or horseback, who were going to church services.

Horses continued to receive equal, if not superior, consideration in court directives concerning ordinaries and ferries. When the justices appointed Joseph Crouch and James Hoskins as ferry keepers for the Severn River in November 1710, for example, they directed the two men to "ply the [river] with a good boat for carry over of horses and other passengers inhabiting in this county." Edmund Rumney, in petitioning for the appointment as ferry keeper for the South River in November 1713, stated that he had spent at least £300 to built "conveniences . . . fit to give entertainment for man and horse by land or water and is also provided with two good boats and hands."

The first clue as to the means by which the ferry boats moved across the rivers can be found in an entry for November 1715: "Edward Rumney agrees to keep South River Ferry for the ensuing year . . . and to find two good boats and two hands to row in the said boats." This stipulation doesn't rule out the possibility that sails were also used in favorable conditions but would seem to indicate that the ferries did not use any form of cable crossing.

Appointment as ferry keeper for the South River was a sought-after plum, judging from the petitions submitted to the court. John Holland petitioned for the post in November 1716; in granting his request, the court ordered Holland to find "two good boats and five able men to keep the said ferry." Perhaps the experience of the previous year suggested that a ratio of five men to two boats was a better arrangement than two men for two boats.

Strength would seem a desirable attribute for the able hands to have possessed, a judgment confirmed in November 1719 when the Severn River post was requested by Thomas Williams. His petition argued that the incumbent, Robert Jubb, offered poor service because he had "for the most part no body to row in the boat but a couple of very weak boys whose strength is not sufficient very often to convey passengers over[,] especially in hard winds, when tis both dangerous and delaying to those that cross the river." Despite Jubb's deficiencies, however, Williams's petition was rejected. Passengers would continue to take their chances with the weak boys.

The extracted records do not record any significant additions to understanding the operation of the ferries until the 1740s. The November 1746 court directed that "nothing is to be paid for bags containing anything," a charge of "only six pence for any man & horse," and "three pence for a single man or horse." Jurymen attending court could cross after sunset for free. It is tempting to picture horses, without riders, showing up at the ferry landing with three shillings in hoof seeking passage across the river or creek, but more probable to infer that passengers sometimes traveled with extra horses.

The same court session agreed to keep Stephen West as the operator of the South River ferry for another year. As part of the new agreement, the justices granted West permission, when it was not safe for two boats to cross the river, each with a crew of only two men, "by means of hard winds . . . liberty to place all the hands in one Boat if he think proper." Again, the language supports the conclusion that the hands employed by the ferry keeper rowed the boats across the river.

A general order issued in November 1750 set forth the clearest description of the services ferries provided and of the cargoes they typically carried: Ordered that the Ferrymen set over all persons belonging to the County [i.e., county residents] from Sun rising to Sun setting for the allowance [i.e., annual salary] made by the County and also at all times the Justices, Sheriffs, Jurymen, and Evidences [i.e., witnesses summoned to court to testify] during their attending courts, and all other persons set over before Sun rise or after Sun set to pay at the rate of six pence man and horse and three pence for a single person and that the several ferrymen may charge and take for carrying over every chaise or chair or other wheel carriage at the rate of three shillings and six pence each and all ferrymen carry over bags, wallets, baskets, dead meat, and fowls, poultry, geese, and turkeys without charging any thing for the same.

The clerk's record of proceedings in August 1751 contained an unexpected description of the crew of the Magothy River ferry. William Kitely appeared "to answer a the complaint of John Gray of Magothy concerning his keeping Magothy Ferry, and that he should bring with him the girl named Linstead[?] that usually rows in the ferry boat." Evidently the able hands could be female, as well as male, as long as they were strong enough to pull the oars. Three years later, in June 1754, the justices exempted Thomas Barrel, "who rowed in South River Ferry Boat" from payment of the annual levy and granted him a stipend of 320 pounds of tobacco for his support until the next November's levy court, "he having fitts and [being] unable to work." Taxes were levied only on those adults able to work, and residents who could not work and lacked family to care for them received support from public funds.

The men like Thomas Barrel who did the work of loading and unloading the ferries, as well as rowing them, received some consideration for their well-being in a directive of the court issued in November 1754. "The ferrymen are to assist in getting the carriages [on and off the ferry] but shall not be obliged to wade in the water in the winter season." Left unclear is who would wade in the water if that were necessary to move a carriage or chaise safely between shore and ferry. Travel by horse-drawn vehicle entailed various kinds of discomfort but the savings in time must have made their use worth the hardships for inland trips that avoided long sails up and down the Chesapeake region's many rivers.

When the court renewed William Brown's appointment as keeper of the South River ferry in 1762, modifications to the standard terms indicate the growth of public business that was occurring during the third quarter of the century. The justices required that Brown keep two boats and four hands "constantly attending" year round, but "in all public times such as Provincial and County Courts, elections, and other public meetings[,] to keep three boats and six able hands attending." How seaworthy the third boat would be and how skilled the two extra hands (idle or employed in agricultural tasks the rest of the year?) were should perhaps have been a concern.

The August 1769 court proceedings included publication of the current "Rates of Liquors and Other Accomodations." Ordinary keepers could charge 8 pence per gallon for oats and corn. The array of provision for horses also included "Fresh water, hay, corn tops, or oat straw with stableage" at a charge of 1 shilling per night. If fodder consisted only of marsh hay, the cost was 8 pence, and good pasturage per night could be obtained for 6 pence.

With this last entry, the information available from the court records relating to travel on horseback in connection with ordinaries and ferries comes to an end. The references, coupled with the one account by Philip Vickers Fithian of his experience of being called upon to row during a difficult passage, generally indicate that the ferries operating in Anne Arundel relied upon able bodied men (and an occasional woman) to row the ferry boats with their human and equine passengers across the county's waterways.